DVD Marathon: Dollhouse’s Season 2 is a satisfyingly awesome mindtrip

So I’ve been looking for the DVD of Dollhouse’s Season 2 (2oth Century Fox) since the show ended (dang you, Fox! How could you cancel such a great show?!?). I finally found one during my forays into, ehem, pirated DVD shops (it can’t be helped…it’s where the kick-ass DVDs are).

So I loaded it up into my player and, armed with food that can last me three days, ample supply of water and a good recliner, I sat back and enjoyed the show.

Whedon's dolls: (from left) Tahmoh Penikett, Enver Gjokaj, Eliza Dushku, Dichen Lachman, Fran Kranz, Olivia Williams and Harry Lennix

The season picks up where they left off last season: Echo (Eliza Duhku) was kidnapped by Alpha (Alan Tudyk) and promptly uploaded with dozens of personalities until it would seem like she was going to implode, Dr. Saunders (Amy Acker) is revealed to be one of the top active dolls, Whiskey, before she and Alpha went awry, FBI investigator Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) bargains with Adelle de Witt (Olivia Williams) to let Mellie (Miracle Laurie) go, in exchange for working for the Dollhouse, Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix) is now chief of security, actives Victor (Enver Gjokaj) and Sierra (Dichen Lachman) are falling in love with each other and Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) is still the excruciatingly annoying, but brilliant scientist that he is.

Season 2 ups the ante a bit. Echo is now revealed to be more special than the other dolls. Despite the fact that Alpha almost fries her brain to kingdom come, Echo manages to survive the procedure intact and is back doing engagements and treatments for the Dollhouse. She has begun to have memories of previous engagements and personalities she has embodied. A trip to the Washington office of the Dollhouse, during the time she gets embroiled in a controversy about a Senate  Inquiry into the Dollhouse and manages to get kidnapped by the other office, accidentally unlocks even more of her potential. Guest psycho doctor, Dr. Bennet Halverson (Summer Glau, at her brilliant best as the strange doctor) who happens to have been a friend of Echo in the past when she was still Caroline, uploads many personalities into Echo, but uploads a different program that will enable Echo to still exist as the central personality. Echo manages to control the different personalities, and recall and suppress them at will, but not without a cost: her mind and body are deteriorating at each engagement (official business or otherwise) and it is a matter of time before her mind totally gives way to the different demands of each persona in her. She thus has a limited amount of time to control the different personalities and be able to use them to free the other dolls in the Dollhouse before she is caught and put in the dreaded Attic, boxed and stored and never to be used again. Little is explored about Echo’s past, although the episode with Dr. Halverson reveals that she has had a shady past with a more unreliable, criminal, selfish self. What this season concentrates on is how much she evolves, both as a character and as a doll. As each episode progresses, and as she is able to access each personality within her more and more easily and freely, we see her being empowered and being able to finally take control of her destiny and of the other dolls.

An interesting sidebar to this is the budding romance between her and Ballard, who resists any temptation, even during the time when they were cooped up together training Echo for what’s to come. Ballard gets to have some screen time with Mellie, too, and he is shown to be consistently virtuous, but the real complex characters are de Witt, Boyd and Brink.

There is a part in the Dollhouse when de Witt is ousted as the head of the L.A. office. As always, Williams delivers as the steely, conflicted, morally compromised and confused de Witt, obsessed with power, control and a sense of her own rules and protocols. When she loses her power and position, and is exposed to have had her own engagements, especially with the doll Victor, she is revealed to be vulnerable as well, but a moment’s weakness from Brink when he reveals that he has created the deadliest technology yet for Dollhouse, shows that de Witt is still capable of betraying newfound principles of honesty and integrity in order to get back her power and position.

Brink is a surprise in this season. When he finds out, through Echo, that Sierra is being abused over and over again by one client over a series of repeated engagements, and the client requests that Sierra be turned over to him for good, Brink reveals himself to be capable of moral redemption. UP to this point, as de Witt describes him, he has no morals and he views human beings as toys to be played with, so his sudden interest in trying to save Sierra from a fate worse than the Attic seems misguided and hypocritical. But this moral dilemma shows Brink struggling to save Sierra, and the consequences of his actions provide an interesting insight into his character.

Sierra and Victor’s past and present, together and apart are explored a bit more in this season. Sierra is revealed to have been a former budding painter artist. A doctor who was obsessed with her was  responsible for driving her insane and for putting her into the Dollhouse. Victor used to be a soldier in Afghanistan traumatized by the war. He had hoped his signing up with Dollhouse would make him forget whatever happened in the war.Their engagements and their unfolding love story, are a treat to watch in this film and provide an interesting respite from Echo’s altruistic, Messianic imperative.

Overall, I liked this Season. While, as I said, Echo seems to have developed this altruistic, Messianic calling to free the other Dolls, and Ballard reveals himself to be just effing virtuous, so that both have turned boring, the presence of the other, more interesting supporting characters, make this show still worth watching. The real suprises are Brink, Boyd and de Witt – who all are such well-rounded, complex, conflicted, perpetually morally ambiguous characters. The most fun to watch are Sierra and Victor. Though relatively unknown, actors Enver Gjokaj (Victor) and Dichen Lachman (Sierra) are brilliant as the dolls who are forever getting into different characters. Gjokaj was particularly a joy to watch trying to play Brink’s annoying self, scary as the psychopathic, murderous, rich mama’s boy,  and was hilarious as the persona of the college girl that Echo was playing,  while Lachman infuses each character or persona with the right touch of elegance and vulnerability. I particularly liked her playing the haughty, snobbish, politically incorrect socialite who didn’t like “Orientals” (Lachman is part-Asian) and said as much to Brink’s assistant, Ivy (Liza Lapira), who happened to be “Oriental” herself.  Echo took a break from her boring life as the Super Doll to channel the airhead version of Buffy Summers,when she took on the persona of a vivacious albeit annoying college girl. Her accusing Chaucer (or Chauncey, as she is wont to call him) as a poet who can’t spell, and likening the “F” she got for her report on Chauncey as akin to having an “F” on her chest like that scarlet letter, were hysterical.

As for the storyline – well, it is also interesting, as it discusses corporations and their responsibility and accountability to the public, the mind, the collective consciousness and the collective unconscious, the neverending debate on what makes us us, what makes the mind tick, memory, destiny and life in general.

Final sidebar: points and kudos to Joss Whedon and company for snagging Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) who plays an ambitious, vindictive senator in the show, who doesn’t know he is a doll himself, Summer Glau (Serenity, Firefly) as Dr. Halverson and Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber (Apollo Adama in the show), as the rich arms dealer/smuggler married to one of Echo’s many personas. The scenes with Bamber and Penikett seemed like some kind of BSG reunion and I suddenly found myself missing BSG (BSG! Why did you have to end?!?) If the show had gone on, I would have looked forward to guestings from other Joss Whedon regulars and alums (Sarah Michelle Gellar! Alysson Hannigan! more Summer Glau! Can you tell I’m a geek?).

This is a really entertaining, thought-provoking season overall and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a new show to be obsessed with.